So this is the story of the boards.
And mind you, it’s a really long story. Like, way longer than it should be. But I figure that there’s someone out there that really wants to know how it came to pass. Bear in mind - this is all from my own perspective, so there’s stuff that I focus on because I did them, and stuff that I kind of look over because I didn’t do them. That’s not to overlook the very important contributions by the rest of the cast, but I just have a harder time remembering the process behind them because it wasn’t mine.
It’s a little hard for me to figure out where to start, but I guess I’ll just pick a point and work from there.
##The Time Before Time
I like RoosterTeeth.
I’m kind of a super fanboy about them. It’s a running joke with the rest of the cast that, if I say anything actually funny, it’s probably because I stole it from an obscure RT video. But that’s not the point.
The point is that I have a huge amount of admiration for Burnie Burns, the founder and former CEO of the RoosterTeeth company. And he always made it clear that it was paramount that you have your own little place on the internet so that people always know where you are, and not just always rely on other social media networks. “If we had done that with ‘Red vs. Blue’,” he said once. “We would have spent all of our time getting friends on MySpace.”
That stuck with me, the need to not only have our own site, but also to build our own brand, and our own community, separate from relying on other sites. There was originally a point where we thought TTV could only exist within the confines of BZPower. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake with YouTube.
Speaking of which, let’s address the elephant in the room. BZPower.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m very fond of that site. I know, there’s drama and there’s accusations and everything, but I spent a lot of my early internet years on that site and it still has a special place in my memories and heart. I mean that 100% sincerely.
I didn’t want to do “another BZPower”.
Part of it was that I had tried it before. “HiPor” was an old forum that me and Ven ran during BZP’s downtime, one of many that had tried to oust BZPower out of the “defacto Bionicle fan forum” title. It did okay, comparatively, but it all consisted of BZPower members and was kind of a replacement Artwork III that didn’t end up going anywhere.
The other part was that BZPower had done a very good job of being BZPower, and I honestly didn’t want to compete with that formula. They had a decade under their belt being the best at their corner of the market, and unless I could really figure out how to deliver a good alternative, I didn’t want to do it.
The others shared this notion too, much more than I did. There was a lot of back and forth and a lot of pushback to the idea for a good long while.
We used to have a website, a good while ago. This was the old TTV, before we tried anything with YouTube. Eventually, during the year where we didn’t do a podcast, we just let the site die. We had talked about redoing it for a long while, but about early 2014 me and Var really sat down to work on it. We codenamed the project “BinkleBoinkle”, for no other reason that Eljay really hated that name.
Redesigning a website is hard work. Our first website wasn’t worth the effort we had put into it. It was clunky, it was rarely updated, and it was in it’s own little corner of the internet space. We had to change all of that.
My area of the company is legal and business, and I came up with some ideas that Var put to use. Part of that means figuring out what your approach is going to be with what the company does going forward. My big push was that our new website had to be shareable.
See, we had broken quite a lot of news around that time, and what would happen would be that another website would source our video - and then other websites would source that website. Kotaku once famously did this with a LEGO Minecraft article, which was based off a video that we had done. Meso had noticed new LEGO Minecraft set images while he was searching for Bionicle leaks, so it was our news, but Kotaku linked another blog that linked back to our video instead, sourcing that website instead of us. That was a huge sore for our traffic - we could have seriously used that boost and it instead went to another site. So we created our own website so that places would have us to source, and not someone else.
Additionally, we were spreading our social media presence - on Twitter, on Reddit, and on Tumblr. It was on the latter that we decided to push our new site on. See, the thing about Tumblr is that it’s very easily shareable and taggable. People can find our stuff way more easily because it’s already a part of this network. Not only that, it’s a network that’s very, very big on fandoms and fandom news. People that didn’t have Tumblr could follow us like any other website, but people that did would not only have our news conveniently delivered to them, they would reblog and share the article to other follower’s streams across the web. That’s built in marketing for you, all at no cost to us. That’s the power of fandoms.
Tumblr was an easy choice, but it still took a lot of work to fix the visual design of the site. While we were working on that, I was still pushing for the forums.
##All A Board
Backtrack: back when I said I didn’t want to just “do another BZPower”, I meant it. But I had figured out a solution. See, making a Bionicle site either means you have to entice members over from BZPower, or figure out a way to draw other people who don’t go on forums to your site. Basically, leech off an existing audience or gain a new one.
Both weren’t easy: it’s hard to make any user migrate from one platform to another. Most people just like being where they’re at. You need to either have a hook, something that the other platform doesn’t have that it’s users desperately want, or just be an alternative that the users migrate to when the first platform majorly screws up. That latter strategy is honestly the ticket to seeing a boom in traffic. That’s how Reddit did it with Digg, and that’s how Voat is kind of doing it now with Reddit. The former takes a while, but it does help you build until the latter opens. That’s why we’re on Vessel now: I think YouTube’s going to screw up big in the future, and I want to have one foot firmly not only out the door, but planted in another house. Plus, Vessel’s way better than YouTube in terms of creator service.
The only problem was, BZPower wasn’t screwing up. They were starting to fix every major complaint they’ve had. Tough mods, no links to other sites, obtrusive word filter, all of those started to be dealt with. True, there was the fabled “downtime” when the site was down while trying to be upgraded to the new version of InvisionBoard, but there wasn’t any good alternative sitting around then. The most you could say was that it was getting progressively more “politically correct”, not that that was necessarily a bad thing, but Bionicle has always weirdly had a good homeschool demographic and most of them didn’t like it. Others didn’t like that social politics were seeing such a push on there. But whatever, that wasn’t enough to start a new site with.
So, just offer a new feature, right? Wrong. Again, I had tried this several times before, both with “HiPor” and this site called “Empire of Pixels”. The draw to “Empire” was that it had something really similar to Trust Levels on here. If you were an active member, you would become a “Nobleman”, which means that you could have additional privileges. I offered instant Nobleman status to anyone who joined in the first week - got a good bunch of comic makers to jump aboard, but without any new audience it pretty much faltered.
“HiPor” was the merging of mine and Ven’s forum together, to get the BZPC as a new comic audience. The added benefit was now that Noblemen could actually run for and vote for a community member to be represented on staff. That didn’t work, for obvious reasons. Turns out community members don’t always share the same vision you do when you create a site, not to any fault of their own, but because they just weren’t there when you did it. Go figure.
Okay, so both leeching off an old audience and getting a new audience were completely a bust. What to do? Secret option number 3: Don’t make a Bionicle site.
It was, honestly, really simple. See, we couldn’t compete with BZPower in making a Bionicle fansite. But the truth was, I didn’t want to create another Bionicle fansite. I wanted to expand what we were doing with our channel, to centralize the people that had started to appear in our comments, and to make sure we could interact with them in a way we could because YouTube comments completely suck.
This would be a site about us, first and foremost. It would be a site about building our brand and fostering our community. That’s where we would find our audience. That’s how we would get our site off of the ground.
That’s all it took for me. But it still took some convincing and prodding for the others to get on board. I couldn’t blame them - it was a huge undertaking, and there were many legitimate concerns with it.
That all changed July 6th, 2014. That’s when we crunched down and did it.
I guess technically it was early July 7th. I distinctly remember this because I was at a Rest Stop, in the middle of my vacation. I took a trip to RTX (see! RoosterTeeth callback!) in 2014, and my dad had a speaking engagement in Florida the following weekend, so we took a long vacation going from Austin, Texas, to Tallahassee, Florida.
We stopped in New Orleans for the day, and in a Rest Stop for the night. During this Rest Stop, I got up and walked around, talking to the guys about my RTX adventure and also hashing out again the argument about making a community forum.
Sidenote: I’m a big talker. I talk about everything. I’m not a great do-er. Stuff only gets done when someone who makes stuff gets done is on board. This is where Var comes in.
Sidenote sidenote: Var is literally the Great Doer of the channel. Stuff gets done when he decides to do it. It’s how it works. It’s also why he’s the CEO. The others are also invaluable, but screw them right now. This is about me and Var.
Okay, so basically, this time both me and Var were really enthusiastic about it. And I distinctly remember admiring how I had been talking about a community forum for months, but in one 48 period it would go from concept to reality once Var jumped on board with the project.
Meso, Eljay, Ven and the rest had a lot of legitimate concerns. 1. It would take away too much time from the channel. 2. We didn’t want to compete with BZP. 3. We didn’t really need a community site right now. And other assorted arguments.
Var proposed this system - we would build the forum ourselves, but we would hire people that we knew and trusted from our community days (Starparu, MOC and Crunchbite Nuva were the first mods). Then, as the site grew, we would draw in either other people we knew, or get people from the community to help manage the site. Basically, make sure that we could still spend the focus and time we needed to on our channel while still being able to interact with the site.
I also proposed my counterarguments to why we needed a community and how it wouldn’t compete with BZP, which you’ve already seen so I won’t bore you with repeating myself.
And that was it. They were on board. Fantastic.
Only one problem. What software do we use?
All of our internet lives had been spent on InvisionBoard. We went on BZPower, we used InvisionBoard 2. We created our own forums, it was on the InvisionBoard free service platform. I had looked into the software before, back when I first had this idea, but all of the alternatives were basically the same deal. At first, I didn’t have a problem with it. It’s what I was used to, after all.
But then, I really thought about what I wanted to do with this site and reconsidered. Our website was built, more than anything else, to be more than just a “news site and a forum”. Just like with our site, we didn’t just want to do the same thing we had wanted to do before, we wanted to do it better. And forums had been around for decades by now. They were old. I wanted a forum that looked different, that felt different, that really took the idea of forums and redesigned it from the ground up.
From the moment I saw their page, it was like they could read my mind. The developers had had the same realization I had had. Forums were old, but they didn’t have to be. The very concept of them could be taken down and built up from the ground level again.
Real time loading. No more pages. Dynamic quoting. Markdown input. And, to make things even better, it was Open Source. Not only was it free, but it encouraged people to tweak and mess with it, creating new plugins with tons of features. It was constantly being updated and people were always adding new things. To someone who had been on the same forum for five years, it blew me away to see how many new features were constantly being developed.
I went to a coffee shop that next day, July 8th. Atomic Coffee was the name of the place. They served coffee and meals. I loved that place. Stellar service. Var was at a coffee shop too, by his university.
Var bought the docket and, after several hours of troubleshooting, got it up and running with a copy of the forums. I started tweaking it, making categories, writing up rules, working on CSS, and installing numerous plugins. We made a skin and started doing some test topics, inviting several of our fans who had been with us to play games for Game Nights to check it out.
We also launched our parent site, ttvpodcast.com, with some already written articles that started to circulate on Tumblr. The “BinkleBoinkle” project was just about completed. All that was left was to do a soft release on MakutaFest, and then really push forward with talking about it on our channel.
##Launch and Liftoff
I really miss those initial days, back when had complete control over our boards. Me and Var had no experience being Linux admins, but we were both very computer savvy and worked as we went along. Those early days of passing commands back and forth and figuring out what was wrong with the boards was great. Of course, the boards kept going down; we were still hilariously inexperienced and there were a lot of things we didn’t know.
One of the final straws in the coffin was when our server ended up getting DDOSed and our docklet got shut down. I pulled a bunch of emergency maneuvers to pull a backup of our forums off, and we moved to a new hosting service. It made me spend less time screwing around with Linux and more time to actually having the boards online.
Speaking of which, the turnout. Holy crap, was the turnout amazing. You guys came and you made this place worthwhile. The amount of discussion that goes on here is spectacular, and this board definitely wouldn’t have achieved anything without you.
Which brings us to the end of the story, basically. The boards are where they are now. We are where we are now. That’s the secret origin.
I guess, in closing, I think all of us would love it if we could continue this as a career. Unfortunately, the channel doesn’t make enough money to do it - yet. And we’ve all already been there when Bionicle ended the first time. We know it’s going to end again.
That’s why building our brand is super important for us - it’s literally the only way we’re going to survive in the next couple of years. We’re a fully recognized company now (yay!), and we’re starting to branch out into other things. I know there’s always a lot of pushback when we do non-Bionicle related content on our channel, but there’s just no way we’d be able to survive without doing it.
So thank you for being here and supporting us, and thanks for helping us build this. Thank you for actively enjoying us and wanting to interact with us and other people that like us on our site. Thank you for supporting us both now and in the future. Thank you for making this not just “another Bionicle fansite”, but an actual TTV Community.
And that, kids, is the story of how I met your mother.